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Monthly Archives: August 2011

School Lunch – What We Pack

First Day of First GradeToday is the first day of school for the girls and they were pretty excited to be starting First Grade. 

As the school year was approaching, I talked to several other moms that are concerned about nutrition about what their kids would be doing for lunch. Last year in Kindergarten, the girls took a homemade lunch almost every day. About once a month, we have something come up where we just can’t get it together that morning and we let them buy lunch at school that day. But, we check the menu online and talk to them about what choices are the better ones and emphasize the white milk, not chocolate milk, rule. Also, my husband or I have lunch at school with the girls about once every couple of weeks, so we are familiar with how the lunchroom is set up and the procedures.


There are lots of options here. We have the Laptop Lunches  system and this is the second year we are using our set. I also have a Laptop Lunchbox and that is what I bring when I eat lunch at school with them. This is the one my daughter Julia, who loves PURPLE, has:

Laptop Lunchbox

Laptop Lunchbox "Purple Party"

The good thing about the system is that it lets you create a lunch with no unnecessary wasted packaging.  I watched a little girl in my daughters’ class today eat her Lunchable and it was shocking how much trash it generated (not to mention the questionable nutritional value). She also had trouble opening some of the individual packages inside.  We also use cloth napkins that IZiploc Lunch Container wash; got about 20 of them for very cheap in the Michael’s clearance bin last year. 

The downside of the Laptop Lunches system is that  the initial cost for the Laptop Lunches system is a little steep, Pre-K and Kindergarten kids may have trouble opening the main compartment themselves, and with four kids, we can almost fill the dishwasher each evening with just their lunchboxes and inside containers.   So, sometimes, I use the lunch containers from Ziploc.  They are very cheap (like $2.50 for a 2-pack) and you can re-use them several times.  They are liquid-tight, so I can put yogurt in one of the compartments with no leaks.  They also fit well inside our Laptop Lunches insulated carrier bag.

Beverages and Food

Their school does provide a water dispenser with cups for kids that want water instead of milk. The drink we send everyday is what they would have if they were eating at home which is organic white milk. The Laptop Lunches bottle holds 12 oz., we just put in 4 oz. of milk. When we put in more, they don’t drink it all. We try to limit juice to a special treat since it is really just sugar water. So, juice is something they get maybe 2-4 times a week as a treat when they are with us, not as part of a meal. I also do use juice (grape or apple) to make homemade jello (using unflavored gelatin) so they also get some then.

Our lunches generally consist of a main dish that is either a meat/cheese roll-up using nitrate-free turkey or ham and real cheese or an egg salad or tuna salad sandwich on 100% whole wheat bread; plain yogurt with honey; some cut-up fruit; and some kind of veggie (either broccoli slaw, grape tomatoes, carrot sticks or snow peas, etc. sometimes with homemade ranch dressing or hummus). The laptop lunchbox has 2 big sections and 2 small sections, so 4 items works out well for them.

The Laptop Lunches website has a photo gallery with lots of ideas for what to pack for lunch.  You also get a little booklet with the box.  Our lunches are a bit monotonous, but the kids don’t seem to mind. When I have tried pasta salads or things like that to make it more interesting, they don’t eat them. But, they will eat these same things at home, so go figure. 

Sometimes, we do put dinner leftovers in, if it is something that can be eaten cold, for example, leftover grilled chicken breast strips.  There is no way for them to heat up any of the meal, so we always pack a cold lunch.   We just used the re-usable ice packs to keep the food cold until lunch. I have tried a couple of different thermoses for soup, but have not been impressed with any of them.

What are you packing for your kid’s lunch this year?

– Stacey

8/31/2011 Update: These are a few of the lunches we packed for the girls this week:

Monday’s Packed School Lunch:
Monday's Packed School Lunch
Monday’s Packed School Lunch: Nitrate-free turkey and cheese rollup plus olives, grape tomatoes and sugar snap peas with homemade ranch, plain yogurt with honey, peaches and cherries, plus white organic milk
Wednesday’s Packed School Lunch:
Wednesday's Packed School Lunch

Wednesday's Packed School Lunch: Organic hard boiled eggs, cherries, peaches, broccoli slaw, plain yogurt with honey and flax seed, organic white milk


Scalloped Eggplant – updated version of something I grew up eating

1950s HomemakerAs we are trying to eat more veggies, both in volume and variety, I am reaching back into my past for recipes.  My mom used to make this dish from “The Betty Furness Westinghouse Cook Book” back when I was a kid.  I will mention that the book was published in the 50s, but I grew up in the 70s, I am not that old.  🙂

I updated it a bit by substituting the shortening and white bread crumbs it originally called for and upping the eggs a bit for more protein.  Feel free to cut the butter a bit if that is something you restrict. Assuming you eat eggs, this recipe is also vegetarian.

It may seem odd, but we have always served this with a bit of tomato ketchup squirted on top at the table; Hunt’s is a common brand that is HFCS-free.  Muir Glen and Organicville also make ones that are rated higher on healthiness. If you want to use a better ketchup, hit your local health food store for one of those.

So, if you have a shelf full of really old cookbooks like I do, go back and take a look at some of them.  After laughing at all the concealed salad recipes and the casseroles that depend on canned soup, see if some of the other recipes can be modified. Back in the 30s, 40s and 50s there was less of a dependence on processed foods and most familes actually cooked real food and sat down to eat together every night.

Scalloped EggplantWestinghouse Cook Book
(adapted from “The Betty Furness Westinghouse Cook Book” by Julia Kiene, 1954)

  • 1 large or 2 smaller eggplants
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup melted butter (or coconut oil)
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat bread crumbs (I ground up a leftover Nature’s Own 100% whole-wheat hot dog bun)
  • 3 organic eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/8 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • Extra buttered whole-wheat cracker crumbs for garnish (I used Ak-Mak whole-wheat crackers)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Peel and cube eggplant.  Cook in pot in water until tender; drain and cool.  Mix onion, butter, crumbs, eggs, salt and pepper in large bowl.  Add eggplant and mix well.  Pour it all into a greased casserole dish.  Sprinkle with extra buttered crumbs. Bake in oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Serves 8-10 as a side dish.

Scalloped EggplantI love this dish, but I even ate it as a kid, so I do like eggplant.  Mike hates eggplants and refuses to eat them, so he didn’t even taste this.  The kids all ate theirs.  Two really liked it and had seconds; the other two just ate their first serving.  So, we have enough leftover for another meal.

– Stacey

Scallop Eggplant on table

Bean Medley Salad – Good for Vegetarians and “Meatless Mondays”

Bean Medley SaladThis recipe is one I got at a meeting where people were bringing high protein, low carb dishes for others to try.  I have made is a couple of times now and tweaked to our taste.  It is pretty flexible since you can use whatever different beans you have on hand, as you can see since this time I didn’t have kidney beans or black-eyed peas. I discovered after I decided to make this last night that I was missing bell peppers and it would have been better with them.

Mike really likes is since he is a balsamic vinegar and cilantro fan.  I like it and the triplets usually eat at least half of what I put on their plate.  Emma eats all of hers because she is a big balsamic vinegar fan also.

The recipe uses canned beans, but if you want to take the time, you could start with dried beans and soak and cook them yourself.  If you used canned beans, try to find ones without lots of additives and if the can lining is BPA-free, even better.

Bean Medley Salad

  • 1 15-oz. can garbanzo beans
  • 1 15-oz. can black beans
  • 1 15-oz. can red kidney beans (I used pinto beans)
  • 1 15-oz. can black-eyed peas (I used cannellini beans)

Drain and rinse beans well and place in large bowl.  Chop up very finely the following and add to beans:

  • ¼ each green, yellow, and orange bell pepper (I didn’t have peppers, so I substituted 3 chopped mini-cucumbers)
  • ¼ to 1/2 Vidalia onion
  • Cilantro to taste (about 1/3 to 1/2 cup, finely chopped)
  • Garlic to taste (2-3 cloves, finely chopped)
  • 10 to 15 grape tomatoes, halved (or chop up one regular tomato)

Combine all ingredients  together and then add:

  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oilEating Bean Medley Salad
  • 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Emma was my kitchen helper for making this and she says “It’s good!”

– Stacey

Bean Medley Salad Closeup

Creamy Potato and Leek Soup

We had dinner the other night at church as part of our book group that is reading “Consuming Kids” by Susan Linn.  The book is very insightful and there is a whole section on food marketing to kids, so I recommend reading it.  You can also check out the companion video on YouTube.  Anyway, each of the members of the book group brought some food to share and our coordinators, Craig and Michelle, brought the main dish.

Craig made some delicious crusty bread and I will post about that at a later date, but Michelle made Potato Leek soup that was enjoyed by everyone; several of us asked for the recipe.  She based it on this recipe at, but she made a few changes and then I made a few more.

Also, I decided to make mine in the crockpot, not to save time really, but so I could throw everything in and then come back 3 hours later to find delicious soup.  I used my smaller crockpot, but if you only have a large one, you could double this recipe and have some to freeze for later.  If you want to make it on the stove in less time, then follow the shorter cooking instructions in the original recipe.

Creamy Potato and Leek Soup (crockpot version)
Makes 8 large servings or more if you are feeding kids

  • 1/2 cup butter (this is 1 stick or 1/4 lb.)
  • 2 small leeks (or 1 large leek), sliced thinly
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 quart chicken broth (or veggie broth for vegetarians)
  • 5 cups potatoes, diced
  • 2 cups half&half (or 1 cup cream plus 1 cup milk)
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  1. In a small pan over medium heat, melt butter. While it is melting, clean and thinly slice your leeks.
  2. Cook leeks in butter until tender, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes.
  3. While the leeks are cooking, wash and dice your potatoes.  I left the skin on mine.
  4. Mix cornstarch well into broth and then pour broth into your crockpot.
  5. Add the leeks, potatoes and half/half to the crockpot. Preseason with salt and pepper, being conservative. Cook on high for 3 hours or low for 6 hours.
  6. Adjust salt and pepper to taste before serving.  We also added shredded cheddar cheese as a garnish to ours.
Creamy Potato and Leek Soup

Creamy Potato and Leek Soup

Some Variations:

  • Loaded Potato Soup: Garnish with shredded cheddar cheese, crumbled cooked nitrate-free bacon and chopped chives.
  • Clam Chowder: Add a drained can of clams, chopped. (or fresh ones if you live near an ocean; not an option for us in Oklahoma)
  • Potato and Ham Soup: Add some cubed leftover baked ham when you add the potatoes.
  • Add Veggies to make it healthier: sliced carrots, chopped broccoli, or chopped spinach/kale, green peas, whatever veggies you like
  • Kick it up a Notch: Add some cayenne to the crockpot while cooking or if you need to season at the table instead because some of your guest don’t like it spicy, just add a few dashes of tabasco to each bowl.

I am going to be honest here, even though there is a lot less butter and cream in this version than the original, there is still a lot of butter and cream in this soup.  So, if you would like, you can reduce the butter still further  to 1/4 cup (1/2 a stick) and switch the half&half to just whole milk.  It will not be as thick, so to thicken it up, you could take out about 1-2 cups of the finished soup and blend it in a blender until pureed, then add back to the crock pot or give the whole pot a few whirs with an immersion blender.

Since we try to eat real food, I am not going to suggest using Frankenfood low-fat spreads or abominations like fat-free half&half.  If you are going to do that, you may as well just open a can of Campbell’s potato soup with all its sordid ingredients and forget cooking.  Okay, off my soapbox.  🙂  If you want to avoid cream and butter, then instead of doing crazy substitutions, instead try this Leek and Potato soup that is broth-based not cream-based from Jamie Oliver’s site.

Also, if you use commercial chicken broth, there can be a lot of sodium in it; that is one reason why I can’t give an exact amount on the salt.  I used homemade chicken broth, so that wasn’t a big concern for me, but if using store-bought, find one of the lower sodium ones.

By the way, all the kids loved this soup and so did I.  Enjoy!

– Stacey

UPDATE:  Made another batch of this last night with the following changes: reduced the butter to 1/2 a stick (1/4 cup) and added some sliced raw baby-cut carrots and chopped raw spinach along with the potatoes.  Still Yummy!

Pumpkin Pie Steel-Cut Oatmeal – in less than 10 minutes

As I mentioned in a earlier post, we eat a lot of oatmeal and usually it is the steel-cut kind.  But, that takes too long to cook in the morning, like 40 minutes, right?  Not really, as I base mine on this easy and relatively fast recipe for 7 minute stove top steel-cut oatmeal. That is how I make oatmeal about 75% of the time now.
Of course, you can always make your oatmeal ahead and just heat it up in the morning.  But, it is simple to soak the oats overnight and then they cook in a jiffy.  When I make oatmeal, it is enough to feed four elementary kids plus one adult.  I usually end up with one or two extra servings of oatmeal and Emma and I have it the next morning since she LOVES oatmeal.
You can use the basic recipe and then add dried fruit and spices to your preference, or add nothing and just enjoy the oaty goodness.  I add the flax-seed to boost the Omega-3’s.  Today’s breakfast was:
Pumpkin Pie Steel-cut Oatmeal
  • 1 cup steel cut oats
  • 1 cup milk

    Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal Ingredients

    Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal Ingredients

  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 dash sea salt
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice (a mixture of ground cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice)
  • 2 Tbsp real maple syrup or honey (not HFCS stuff)
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp ground flax-seed (optional)
  1. The night before (or at least 6 hours before), soak the oats in about 3-4 cups of plain water with about 2 Tbsp of whey, kefir, buttermilk, or lemon juice added.

    Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal in pot

    Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal in pot

    (Note: the whey, etc. is optional, it would work with just the water, but the whey helps to “pre-digest” the oats and allows your body to get more nutrients out of them).

  2. In the morning, drain oats in a fine-meshed sieve, rinse with water, and then drain again.
  3. Place the drained, soaked oats and all other ingredients in a pot, bring to slight boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes until thickened.  Serve with cream if desired.
     Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal in bowl with cream

 This morning’s taste test results from the kids were:

Eating Pumpkin Pie OatmealEmma: 5 out of 5 stars

Julia: 4 out of 5 stars (she is not an oatmeal lover, but this was the best she has had)

Leah: 5 out of 5 stars

Sarah: 4.5 out of 5 stars (she didn’t like the pecans, otherwise it would have gotten 5)

– Stacey

Almost all the fat comes from the pecans, so if you omit those, it is low-fat.  Either way, you get lots of Vitamin A from the pumpkin.  Nutritional Analysis (including pecans) assuming 8 servings from

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal Nutrition Analysis

Kids and Exercise – movement in daily life and when temps are over 100

There is a blog called “walk.” aka “too big for stroller” where they post pictures of older children being pushed in baby strollers.  I came across it several months ago, but this weekend in Wal-Mart, I saw something that I think would qualify for the site.

Tween riding in grocery cart

Sorry if this is your kid. I blurred the face of the child and cropped the mom's for privacy and the clothes are pretty generic.

The child has to be at least 9 or 10, right?  It is a bit hard to tell since she is seated while her mom is standing (and doing the pushing), but her torso and thighs seem to be almost as long as her mom’s, and her mom was an average height.

I am overweight, I am not in any way a gym rat, but I do at least walk and push my cart when I am in the grocery store.  As I was navigating through all the non-elderly adults in electric carts, I came across this child who is probably headed there herself.  There are times when riding on an electric cart is helpful, when you break or sprain your leg, when you are late in pregnancy, when you are a senior citizen, etc. But, a healthy child that is over the age of five should be walking, not riding. 

If your kids whines about having to walk then you just have to suck it up and listen to the whining until they finally give up and walk.  You are not doing them a favor in multiple ways by letting them ride.  My six-year-old daughters would like to ride, but they don’t get to, and now they rarely whine about it since they know there is no point.  Check out the age and weight limits for the grocery carts and also the prohibition against letting your kid ride in the basket…the label is right there, under all the chips and pretzels.  It says 6 to 48 months and 15 to 35 pounds max:


Grocery Cart Weight Limit

Yes, I know there are older children with special needs that are unable to walk, but they have special strollers and chairs with safety straps made for these kids that are bigger/older; their parents don’t generally just throw them in a grocery cart.  She had to be healthy enough to climb into the cart herself since she is too big for her mom to have picked her up and put her in it.  This child must be able to walk (despite her lack of shoes…health violation?) so why is her mom pushing her around? 

I also could not help but notice the numbers of Lunchables, frozen dinners, empty carb snacks such as cheddar cheese pretzel sandwiches, and sugary juices and soda in the cart.  Processed food, white flour, and concentrated liquid sugars plus no movement is not a good combination for helping a child be healthy.  She also seems to be clutching some kind of flavored milk, probably Nesquik strawberry-flavor… 360 calories and 60g of sugar in that 16 oz. bottle.  Yes, push your tween in a grocery cart and people look at what kind of food you are feeding her.

Experts say that maintaining a child’s physical health is a combination of both healthy eating and physical activity. (CDC website on childhood obesity)  So, children must do the least and walk as they move around through their daily life, but what about more active exercise and play? 

The temperature today in Oklahoma is predicted to be between 110 and 112 degrees F and it may top the all-time record of 113 F.  We will be at the pool this afternoon, since we have swimming lessons, but otherwise, the kids will not be playing outside. Sundown is at 8:30pm and the temp will be down to between 101 and 104 by then, so I don’t think we can squeeze an evening walk in either. So, what do you do as a parent to encourage healthy movement when the temperature is extreme either in the middle of summer or winter? 

Gyms may be an option for adults, but most have an age minimum of 16 or so, since the equipment is sized for adults.  The girls are too big now at six to play in the mall’s indoor play area, since I don’t want them trampling the toddlers.  And I really don’t want to frequent a fast-food restaurant just to use their indoor play equipment; kind of defeats the purpose of trying to teach them to eat healthy.  When they play inside our house, their games tend to be more sedentary.  Any ideas?

– Stacey

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